Of Palaces and Memories

The pages of the book crackled with newness, even though the book itself was over twenty years old. It had sat on a shelf in the immaculate parlor, untouched, Mycroft Holmes was sure, since his mother had first assembled it. The Holmes were, by their very nature, unsentimental and loathe to fondly reminisce about long-past days. Mycroft was certain his mother had only made the book because at some point scrapbooking had been especially popular among upper class women, and his mother was never one to miss out on a fad.

Mycroft glanced at the first picture: a photo of his mother, clad only in a hospital gown, grinning at the camera. A small, blue bundle was clutched to her chest...him. He smiled humorlessly at the photo; in a way, he came about as a result of a fad. He knew his parents had only decided to have him because it was expected of all couples of their station and time in life to have at least one child. Always obedient to social standards, his parents had obligingly produced him, intending to only have the one child, the single impediment to their lifestyles. Sherlock had been a mistake.

The elder brother thought all this without a trace of anger. If anything, he found it ironic that the most unwilling of parents had produced two of the most brilliant minds of that generation. Perhaps that unwillingness is what had molded the brothers into who they were.

Dispensing with the pointless philosophical musings, Mycroft turned the page, despite himself. There he was again, about four, sitting in the library with a heavy book on his lap, one of his fathers' suit coats draped around him like a cloak (Father must have been away) looking cheekily up at the camera. It was not long after, Mycroft knew, that his four-year-old self had realized that his parents would never be able to raise him properly.

He had had, from all accounts, seemed to be a fairly normal child, at least at first. His mother held and played with him when the mood struck her fancy, the nannies tended to his actual needs, and his father remained disinterested and usually away on business, unless the boy somehow disturbed his routine, but that was rare. As he grew into a toddler, Mother had sent him out to play with the children of her wealthy and powerful friends. Mycroft accepted this as a necessity. It seemed clear that while he was always smarter than all the other children his age (and very often, even children older than him) it was necessary to engage with them. It was not hard to discover the reason why. If one treated others correctly: a smile at just the right time, a conspiratorial whisper when just the right people were looking, and, on occasion, a cold, hard glare, they would give you things you wanted: Timothy's yo-yo, Jeanette's ice cream, Alexander's dollar. As he grew, he discovered he could make his schemes more elaborate. He could make them all agree on which game to play without any of them thinking it was his idea, he could make Charlotte and Lucy get in a fight, only to bring them back together before supper, he could choose who was "the captain" of the group, because if he chose the captain, they would listen to him, but if they got in trouble no one would get angry at Mycroft.

Mycroft assumed that this was why mother spent so much time with those other silly ladies, whom he found he could manipulate, if possible, even more easily with an endearing grin or mildly petulant pout; she was controlling them just as he was controlling the other children, and mother sent him out to play with the others because she knew that he would be able to do it for her. They were a team. The thought always made the young Mycroft smile.

Then came the day. His fourth birthday, and Mummy had invited all the usual children to come and play. Mycroft was excited. He loved watching all the people with all the things that made them angry or sad or glad and weaving them together in order to accomplish what he wanted. It was one of the very few things that rarely bored him. He bounded down the stairs, a little louder than strictly necessary, but it was his birthday, and slid to a stop in front of Mummy.

She smiled at him, her pale blonde hair and even paler blue-grey eyes looked nearly as excited as Mycroft felt. She can't wait for the game either he thought. She bent down and pulled him into a warm hug, "Happy birthday Mycroft."

Wrapping his arms around her neck, Mycroft whispered excitedly, "I think I'm going to make Jeanette mad at Lucy again and then I'll make them better friends than ever."

He felt Mummy's body stiffen. She pulled away, frowning slightly at him, "What do you mean Mykee," she asked, and Mycroft noticed that her eyes were guarded, her voice hesitant, even, it seemed to the young boy, a little afraid.

"I'm going to make Jeanette mad at Lucy again, which will make Adam happy because he likes playing with Jeanette, but she doesn't play with him if Lucy's there. But since Adam will be happy, and he wants Jeanette to still be his friend, so he will give his cake to Jeanette because she's always hungry and always asks for more, but then Jeanette's mother will get cross and she'll tell Jeanette not to be greedy and give the cake to the birthday boy...which is me," he finished with a smile, "And I will get two pieces of cake!" he grinned expectantly up at Mummy, expecting her to smile in pride or perhaps tell him what game she was planning on playing with her friends.

Instead, Mummy frowned, "Well if you want two slices of cake Mykee, you can just ask and we will get you more."

Mycroft opened his mouth to explain that he didn't really want two slices of cake (although he would definitely eat both), but that he wanted to play the game, that he always needed to play the game to keep himself from getting bored or overwhelmed by the constant flow of thoughts that kept him up at night long after Nanny had put him to bed: inventions, ideas, puzzles, memories all weaving together so that he could see things that none of the other children could see...that no one else could see...except for Mummy.

Mummy was still frowning at him. She did not understand. More than that, she seemed a little...nervous, scared even. She was staring at him as if she had never seen him properly before, as if he were a stranger.

Then Mycroft understood. Mummy could not see those things either. She was just as boring and silly as everyone else. He was alone.

Alone. Alone. Alone. The word followed him throughout his birthday party, where Mycroft did get his second slice of cake, but it did not make him very happy. For a few days he had moped about the house before his four-year-old mind had decided that he was being silly. He was smarter than Mummy and Daddy and all the children at school and maybe even everyone in the whole world and it just made it easier for him to play his games that way. So through the years he smiled and pretended he was normal, getting grades that were high, but not too high, playing with lots of kids but never growing close to them, and playing his games, always being able to see what other people wanted, loved, hated, hoped, and feared and learning to use those all those things to get what he wanted. It makes everyone so weak, he thought dismissively, and he determined to never let anyone ever play those games with him. Yet no matter how many schemes he created, how many books he read, and how many puzzles he solved, the oppressive aloneness always remained, threatening to suffocate him if his mind stayed still for more than a moment.

Mycroft turned the page of the scrapbook, berating himself for getting hung up in emotional trappings as he did so. Once again his mother's face smiled up at him from a hospital bed, another baby in her arms, a tuft of black hair barely visible from the top of the blue blanket. His mother's smile was even more tremulous this time. The love was there too, of course, but Mummy's eyes also betrayed a fleeting sense of insecurity, as if unsure how she had ended up in a hospital bed with another child in her arms. In many ways, Mycroft thought grimly, it was the truth.

He had known his mother was pregnant weeks before she had told him, of course. He had noticed the nausea, the vomiting, and the fact that she no longer drank wine at dinner. A quick check with a few medical books in the library confirmed his suspicion. Once the puzzle was solved, the eight-year old had dismissed the matter. Undoubtedly it would bring changes, but there was not enough information to draw many conclusions, so he had returned to reading his book of famous world battles.

Then the baby was late, and while Mycroft knew this to be fairly common, he could not help but be irrationally annoyed with his future brother. He thrived on plans and regularity and could not help but wonder if the baby's stubborn insistence to remain in the womb boded ill for the future.

It was these thoughts, along with general disinterest, that prevented Mycroft from being unduly excited as his nanny drove him to the hospital and led him into the small white room to see the newborn. Mummy was propped up with pillows in the hospital bed, a small, blue bundle clutched in her arms. Father was at the other end of the room, his eyes glancing wistfully toward the door. He had to leave for New York in an hour. "Mycroft dear," Mummy said, smiling at him. Mycroft noticed she was already wearing makeup, "Come see your new little brother."

Not wanting to disappoint Mummy, and a little curious, despite himself, Mycroft allowed Nanny to pick him up and carry him toward the bed. The baby was hardly attractive: small, red, and wrinkly, but Mycroft was not surprised. According to his books, that was how all babies were supposed to look just after they had been born. What did surprise him was how he felt looking at the baby. Until now, the baby had been an interesting puzzle: a new subject to research and a new variable that would change their lives, possibly dramatically. He had neither loved nor hated the bulge growing beneath his mother's heart. However, as he stared at the red, wrinkly baby with his tufts of black hair, Mycroft felt something strange in his chest, a fluttering, powerful sensation that threatened to overwhelm him. He struggled for several seconds to find a word to describe the fluttering, and he finally decided on ….love, but not just love…pride. He was proud of his little brother. There was nothing to set the baby apart from every other baby in the world, no reason for Mycroft to feel that this baby was special, yet he elder boy found he could not contain the irrational pride he felt in staring at the baby...at his brother.

Mycroft glanced at Mummy. She was smiling nervously at him, clearly uncertain of Mycroft's reaction to his sibling. Of course she doesn't know if I like him or not, Mycroft thought dully, she does not understand me...that infernal word alone again pushed its way to the forefront of his mind.

Suddenly, Mycroft caught his breath and looked back down at his brother. His heart was pounding as he watched the still-sleeping baby squirm a little. I am not alone anymore, he thought. The immensity of the revelation dazed him a little. He was not alone in a house with boring people who all thought and acted the same. Now there was someone else, someone who may even be able to understand Mycroft the way no one else could.

But that means Mummy won't understand you either, Mycroft realized sadly, frowning at the baby. She won't be able to take care of you ...just like she cannot take care of me.

"You look very serious, Mycroft," Mummy said with a small, nervous laugh. Mycroft knew that, as always, she had no idea what he was thinking, and it was scaring her. "What do you think of your new baby brother?"

Still not sure what all these new feelings meant, Mycroft asked the first question that popped into his head, "What's his name?" An obvious question, really, he was a little angry at himself for not thinking of it before.

"Sherlock," Mummy replied. She hesitated again, still ill-at-ease, "Do you like it?"

"Sherlock," Mycroft repeated, feeling the word in his mouth. It sounded unusual but important, like Mycroft's name...but different somehow. The elder brother nodded in approval and, without really realizing what he was doing, he laid his small hand on Sherlock's head, right in the middle of the tufts of hair which stuck up in every direction, "Don't worry, Sherlock," he whispered, "I'll take care of you."

Then he smiled, because he was not alone anymore.